How Much Is That Robo-Doggy
In The Window?
by Steve Diabo (Kaneda)
It walks. It plays. It grows up and matures.
It's Aibo, and it's the world's first production-model
robotic pet. Released by Sony Entertainment in Japan last June
and selling for 250,000 yen (About USD$2,500), the 5,000 units,
all sold online, sold out within 20 minutes. So what's the appeal
of the electronic pooch?
Well, this little doggy has some
tricks to show you -- it's a far cry from any robot toy you may
have had when you were a kid. The name Aibo came from
the acronym for Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and the word
"Robot" (thus the "bo"). The word "Aibo"
can also be translated as "companion," "parter"
or "pal" in Japanese. What sets this digital dog apart
from any other robot today is its autonomous behavior. Aibo
has such a wide gamut of A.I. functions that it has feelings,
instincts, and the ability to grow and learn from its
surroundings. Aibo communicates with people and
expresses "real" emotions as it grows and matures. Aibo
conveys highly sophisticated emotions, from happiness and sadness,
to anger and fear, through physical actions, sounds, and eye
lights. Specifically, Aibo's state-of-the-art Emotion
model features six emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, dislike,
surprise and fear, and his Instinct model features love, search (anyone
who owns a dog and a TV remote control knows that dogs love to
hide stuff and look for it a few days later...), movement (as in
to move away from a dangerous situation), and "recharge
instinct" (comparable to man's instinct to eat). Aibo's
developmental stages are "toddler" phase, "child"
phase, "adolescent" phase (I'm just guessing, but at
this time maybe it's best to keep your Aibo away from Aibos
of the opposite sex... ?), and "adult" phase. Aibo
also has three basic modes in which it can function: Autonomous
mode (in which it uses all the A.I. features to emulate a real
live pet), Game mode (in which you can command it do do basic
movements, like move forward and backward, and have it play with
toys and the like), and Performance mode (in which it puts on a
little show for you and does tricks).
And how does Aibo do all this
stuff? Why, through the use of high-end consumer electronics and
sophisticated sensory devices, of course! Aibo's on-board
equipment consist of, among other refinements, a CCD camera to
allow it to view and recognize colors, and to help it keep from
bumping the walls in your house, no doubt. This allows Aibo
to actually know what's what -- he even chooses a favorite color
for his toys to be. Aibo also boasts a "sound
controller", tone-recognition hardware that you can use
through the remote control and an internal microphone in Aibo
itself. This allows Aibo to distinguish musical tones,
and predefined musical tones is how you give commands to Aibo.
(Note, however, that in Autonomous mode, commands aren't given,
you just praise him or scold him in response to what he does.) Aibo's
software is kept on a Sony Memory Stick (the same device
rumored to be used with the PlayStation 2), and is
highly customizable, through use of extra software for Win95 (OSR
2) / Win98 / Win2K called "Aibo Performer Kit."
Aibo has an on-board battery, much like a cellphone
battery, and can be recharged using "The Station",
a recharging base where you can recharge a spare battery, or
recharge a battery already installed in Aibo while he's
"sleeping." The Station also serves as Aibo's
home base. Aibo also comes with a pink ball to play with.
Wow! A pink ball!
Some people find it hard not to
fall in love with Aibo, and some just find it creepy,
dismissing it as looking too much like "Robocop's pet dog"
to grow on them. Well, it's up to you to judge for yourself. It
is the year 2000, after all, and while we may not have the flying
cars, the flawless Virtual Reality, or the cities on the Moon --
at least we have the robot dogs.